Have you ever Googled yourself? Did you know you leave a trail of data from every little nook and cranny you visit on the Internet?
Whether your info is shared intentionally or unintentionally, it’s being gathered by current employers, prospective employers and even companies from which you shop. This information is called your digital footprint.
“Your digital footprint is your online trail,” says Jessica Koltz, Rasmussen College career services advisor. “Any activities you do or places you go, just like when you walk in sand, leaves a virtual footprint.”
How is your digital footprint used?
Your digital footprint is often used to obtain personal info about you, such as demographics, race, religion, political affiliations or interests. Information could be gathered using cookies, which are small files websites store on your computer after your first visit to track user activity. Cookies also allow you to hold items in a shopping cart, store preferences or login information and make personalized suggestions based on your location or interests.
Anything you voluntarily post online also contributes to your digital footprint. This includes YouTube videos, blog posts and statuses or photos shared on social media sites. It’s important to keep in mind that once it’s online, it could be there forever.
"The minute you meet someone they are going to Google you."
Rasmussen College career services advisor Melissa Wagner explains that there is a wide range of digital fluency levels today. She says many baby boomers are still scared to use anything online, while those in Generation Y are notoriously tech savvy.
“Generation Y’ers don’t always understand that technology can be like Pandora’s Box –with all of the good resources comes other things,” Wagner warns. Understanding the significance of your digital footprint is an important step in protecting yourself online.
How can you manage your digital footprint?
“The minute you meet someone they are going to Google you,” Koltz says. She goes on to explain that many employers turn to Google before filling any vacant position. If they don’t find something on Google, she says they will extend their investigation to social media.
“Even if you set privacy settings to the max on social media—which I do recommend—the people you know may know somebody who knows somebody,” Koltz says.
So how can you manage your digital footprint? Here are a few places to start:
- Protect your personal data: Don’t disclose your personal address, phone number, passwords or bank card numbers. Consider using a nickname instead of your real name.
- Keep login info under lock and key: Never share any of your usernames or passwords with anyone.
- Think before you post: Once something is posted, it can be difficult to remove. If you wouldn’t want a potential employer seeing something, don’t post it!
- Nix the pics: Any photo you post publicly is fair game for anyone to dig up. If you do choose to share questionable pictures, be sure to set your privacy settings accordingly.
- Google yourself: It may sound narcissistic but if strangers are going to do it, you should too! Search for your name every few months so you’re cognizant of the information others have access to.
- Scale back on social media: Don't be on more social networking sites than you can handle. Keep the profiles you use frequently and delete any accounts you don't update often.
What are the benefits of having a digital footprint?
Before you start having nightmares about the dangers of digital footprints, it’s important to know there are positive aspects as well. It’s a way for you to create a personal brand for yourself. You’re now aware that employers are following your trail, so take advantage of it! There are many ways you can leverage your digital skills to land a job.
“The best thing to do is not to stay offline,” Koltz says. She encourages you to participate in professional groups or forums and network with others in your field. She says creating a personal blog is another way to highlight your strengths and personality online.
Pave a positive path
It’s important to think of your digital footprint as a lifelong development. “Be a responsible Internet user and be cognizant that the Internet is public and not private,” Wagner says.
Now you know how to manage and take advantage of your digital footprint. Think of it as a lifelong development! For more tips on how to keep your profiles professional, check out our list of 10 Social Media Do’s & Don’ts.